Covert Racism And White Privilege Are Perpetuated In Grocery Stores And Restaurants Every Day

·6 min read
Photo credit: Jeff Greenberg
Photo credit: Jeff Greenberg

From Delish

Today, my Instagram feed is filled with links to petitions for lives unfairly lost, ways to donate to in-need causes, and graphics that define "white privilege" and "Black Lives Matter." In the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of law enforcement in Minneapolis last week, people from all over the country—world, even—are demonstrating their support for the Black Lives Matter movement at in-person protests and through digital activism.

There's a particular image making its way around the internet that outlines examples of overt and covert racism. The original graphic—created more than a decade ago by Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence and adapted recently by The Conscious Kid, a platform that helps parents educate their children through a critical race lens—is going viral for its explanation of the difference between the two forms of racism, or in The Conscious Kid's adaption, white supremacy.

Related: 10 Food-Related Causes That You Can Donate To Right Now

Covert racism, or socially "acceptable" forms of racism, are subtle ways that bias and privilege are perpetuated every single day. But things like racial profiling, police brutality, and "All Lives Matter" rhetoric are just the tip of the chart's proverbial iceberg, and the subtle acts still perpetuate white dominance.

As a white-passing Latinx individual, I benefit from white privilege whenever I step out, yet I, too, have experienced occasions of covert racism against myself and members of my family. Still, because of how I look I have never and will never receive the levels of covertly and overtly racist actions that Black people experience every day. These subtle acts are so ingrained in society that they present themselves in everyday environments.

Consider these, at grocery stores:

Grocery chains choose location based on income and education levels.

Maybe you've never thought about how or why your favorite chain made its way to your area. Some grocery brands follow a list of standards communities must meet before the chain is built; industry experts have posited that Trader Joe's operates this way. Criteria includes demographics like population density, median household income, and education. Building a Trader Joe's outpost also increases property value, a trend that RealtyTrac has been noticing since 2015. In the past, residents have disapproved of building plans for Trader Joe's for the fear of further gentrifying areas with large Black populations.

Face masks serve as silent attacks.

During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as supermarkets started to require face coverings to stop the spread of the virus, racially-charged incidents of shoppers wearing white KKK hoods as their "face masks" have occurred in California, Colorado, and likely in other areas that haven't been reported. In California, the subject was not charged and in Colorado, the individual was not identified by police.

Segregation exists on shelves.

Once you're shopping inside of a grocery store, subtle issues persist. If you're looking for any sort of ingredient that may be specific to a cultural dish—Goya products, rice noodles, specialty seasonings—you're likely to find it on an aisle in your grocery store labeled "International." Sometimes signage even differentiates specifically between Latino Foods, African Foods, Asian Cuisine, and so on.

While it may seem that international food aisles foster representation in the supermarket, placing these items in one particular area further "other" the very groups that seek them out. For particular marginalized communities like Black women, toiletries like hair care products are often displayed apart from their mega-brand counterparts, if they're even available at all.

Cashiers and door checkers target non-English-speaking customers and BIPOC.

If you make it to the register with a cart full of everything you need without being followed by employees who think you may be stealing just based on how you look and their own internal prejudice, you're almost there. Although, you still face the chance of being stopped at the door to have your bags checked because you're speaking Spanish (my family has experienced this first-hand) or simply because of how you look.

And these, at restaurants:

Restaurant hiring processes are discriminatory against people of color.

It's important to note that the behind-the-scenes workers, like those who deliver meals in metro areas, are often people of color. NPR reported that other "back of the house" positions including dishwashers and line cooks are typically not sought out by caucasian applicants. In 2011 and 2012, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United concluded that many high-end restaurants have discriminatory practices in their hiring processes. Even restaurant critics, whose very job it is to dine out and review service, are more often than not white.

Diners and patrons of color experience microaggressions.

Black customers and people of color can be victims of discrimination while dining on location. Take an incident from November 2019, where a party of minorities, mostly consisting of African-Americans, was asked to switch tables at Buffalo Wild Wings because a white customer told staff he "[didn't] want black people sitting near him." Or in 2016 when a customer's Papa John's receipt was printed with a racial slur, just two years before the founder of the company resigned after he admitted using a racial slur in a meeting.

So what can we do?

The first step toward change is acknowledging the way that systems of oppression seep into activities that seem as mindless as grocery shopping or going out to eat. The aforementioned examples merely scratch the surface when it comes to explaining white privilege in food-related settings. At the current moment, the most immediate steps that can be taken are self reflection and education.

For those who wish to support Black-owned restaurants there is an app that helps you find Black-owned establishments near you and residents in cities across the country have acted quickly to pull together easy-to-refer-to lists. You can also donate to organizations that aim to foster diversity in the food industry. If you can't show your support financially, leave deserved positive Yelp ratings for Black-owned restaurants and diversify your social media feeds by following content creators of color.

These acts of covert and overt racism are issues we can remedy, and we can start now.

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